What is procrastination?

If you’ve ever done the dishes and cleaned your room instead of studying or working, you probably have an idea about what procrastination is.

But what exactly causes us to procrastinate? Laziness? Stress? And how can we stop doing it?

Those are the questions I asked myself when I started researching for this series. I tried to find as many sources, explanations, and methods as possible.

This article, part 1, covers the definition of procrastination while part 2 goes over the reasons for procrastinating. The final part, part 3, goes over actionable and in-depth advice on how to stop procrastinating.

Definition of procrastination

“Procrastination is the voluntary delay of an intended action despite the knowledge that this delay may harm the individual in terms of the task performance or even just how the individual feels about the task or him- or herself. Procrastination is a needless voluntary delay.”

-Timothy A. Pychyl

Procrastination is the act of delaying something that needs to be done while gaining nothing from the delay.

We’ve all been there. “I’ll do this later” and “I still have a week” are just some excuses we tell ourselves.

“You are not a procrastinator; You have a habit of procrastinating.”

-Mel Robbins

The good news is that procrastination is partly habitual. By understanding what triggers it and how it works, you can slowly work on getting rid of it almost entirely.

Self Worth Theory and procrastination

Nic Voge’s TED-talk about procrastination is a must-watch if you’re a student or at university. This is a quick summary of some main points:

According to the Self-Worth theory of achievement motivation, the paramount psychological need that all of us have is to be seen by ourselves and others as capable, competent, and able.

We believe that our innate ability, along with the effort we put in, determines our success/performance level. Our performance level and successes determine our sense of self-worth.

This mindset causes us to tie our sense of self-worth directly to our achievements in life, school, or work. Often it is caused by parents who only showed affection when you succeeded or did as they pleased.

If we procrastinate and then don’t achieve very well, we have a built-in excuse for ourselves and others. (I couldn’t have done better. I only had 2 hours to get ready!)

But if we succeed, we can conclude that we are smart, smarter than we thought we were. (I thought I needed 3 hours for an A, but I got it with only 2 hours of work.)

Therefore, procrastination is not self-sabotage but self-protection. It’s a mechanism to protect your present self.

This is a common phenomenon in psychology. Your subconscious mind is always trying to protect your present self, even if it might not be the best solution for the long term. A good example of this are traumatic events and how the mind can suppress memories of them to protect the self. In therapy, it is often desirable to work through trauma instead of only suppressing it. Procrastination is similar.

“We are trying to protect our sense of being capable and worthy and we’re willing to sacrifice our performance to do it because a sense of self-worth is the paramount human need.”

-Nick Voge

When we procrastinate, we are increasing our chances of failing a task, but if we do, we have an excuse ready.

The feeling of being stuck when you procrastinate is actually the result of a fight between fear of failure and high success orientation. This means that over striving can cause procrastination, not solve it.

What isn’t procrastination?

If you think you are procrastinating, you probably are. However, it is important to note that not all behavior related to putting things off is procrastination.

Sometimes you are setting priorities and putting a task off because it is less important at the moment. Other times your human needs get in the way of completing a task. You might be too tired to do something.

If you feel like the points in this article didn’t resonate well with you and you often put tasks off because you’re too tired or for other reasons not mentioned here, it might be worth looking into the causes. Depression or sleep-related problems can impair your ability to function well if left untreated.

If you want to learn how to fix your sleep and get the right amount of rest every night, check this article out: Sleep: All you need to know to get it right


Procrastination is way more than just laziness. For an in-depth look at the reasons for it, check out part 2: Why do we procrastinate?
Part 3 is all about methods and tricks to help you stop procrastinating and become more productive. You can find it here

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